JetBlue and United Make Big Changes to Frequent Flyer Miles Programs

Changes are coming to a couple of miles programs prompting smiles from some while others angrily denounce the changes on social media. But as air travel analyst Rick Seaney points out, even the changes getting so many so upset will work to some flyers’ advantage.

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Miles No Longer Expire on JetBlue

JetBlue has just announced there will no longer be an expiration date on TrueBlue miles. As the carrier notes on its website, “The points you earn are yours to keep. No expiration. Period.”

This new policy was greeted with rapturous tweets. “Amazing news!” gushed one flyer, while others pointed out that the airline is on something of a roll.

It is indeed. In May, J.D. Power and Associates named JetBlue the number one low-cost carrier in the U.S., an honor it has earned for the past nine years. This week, the American Customer Satisfaction Index also ranked the New York-based airline number one among all U.S. airlines. The least-satisfying airline was United, and the changes just announced for its MileagePlus program probably aren’t going to help it rise in those ratings anytime soon.

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United Adds Spending Requirement

Beginning in 2014, United’s Premier qualification requirements will include a minimum annual “spending level.” In other words, it is no longer enough to simply fly a lot; elite status must be achieved by paying a certain amount for one’s miles, which tends to favor the last-minute, bigger-spending business traveler. Air travel expert Rick Seaney says, “Some high-paying frequent flyers may actually like this, since it could very well ‘thin the herd’ of elites so the perks are more accessible.”

On the other hand, there’s a lot of unhappiness out there in Tweetville and Facebookland:

  • “On behalf of my husband [an elite member] thank you for screwing him over with your changes to MileagePlus.”
  • “Rethink being so greedy United.”
  • “I think it’s time to see what the hype is all about with JetBlue and Virgin.”

Delta was First – Is American Next?

Not encouraging, certainly, but United is not the first to institute a spending requirement. Delta led the way back in January and it would not surprise anyone if American Airlines’ AAdvantage miles program eventually follows suit.

Question: Have the airlines gone too far or is this just a fact of life in the current fee generation? What do you think?

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Published: June 19, 2013